Page 1


PHOTO CORNER: Exposing the work of

SPRING 2012

20

vagabundomagazine.com


MATT GIBSON Working as a travel photographer is the ultimate dream of many vagabonds. They see the world from the trenches, they get to explore with a creative eye, and most of all they get to share that gift with people from all over the world. However, there is a reason that not everyone makes it as a travel photographer. Travel photography requires more than just taking pictures, it requires a keen eye, a stubborn nerve, and the ability to capture a certain emotion with a single click of a button. Editor-in-chief Brendan van Son recently had the opportunity to chat with fellow travel photographer Matt Gibson about his thoughts on the industry and on travel in general.


PHOTO CORNER: Exposing the work of Matt Gibson

Burner Biker | Black Rock City. Nevada, USA I took this photo last year at my first Burning Man festival. I’d been warned that the ultra-fine dust from the playa often damages cameras so I bought a GoPro (a small fisheye camera with a waterproof case) to take instead of my Nikon D80. It was very hard to use at first. The GoPro has an abnormally wide angle lens, but no viewfinder, so you need to shoot blind and check your pictures later on a computer. After a few days I got the hang of it and got some great pictures including this one.

SPRING 2012

22

vagabundomagazine.com


Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? I was born and raised in a small mountain town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains called Cranbrook. The city is not much to speak of, but the Rockies are fantastic. There was a lake a five-minute walk from my childhood home, and just beyond the lake was mountainside and forest with no sign of people except for the occasional dirt road and rusty car frame. I played there almost every day as a child, and continued to mountain bike and hike there when I got older. I later studied sociology and journalism at the University of Victoria, and after that I moved to Taiwan for six years where I taught English, founded Xpat Magazine and started working as a freelance writer. Now I work full-time as a freelance travel writer, photographer, and blogger. I write about all kinds of travel but, because of my upbringing, I greatly prefer to write about travel for outdoors and adventure sports like climbing, mountain biking, surfing, paragliding, etc. I like to promote these activities not only because I enjoy them myself, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because they are usually environmentally sustainable, contribute to travellers’ health, and help people to connect with cultures and the natural world in ways that ordinary travel doesn’t. So, that is the main focus of my blog, Matt-Gibson.org What got you into photography? I took my first photography courses while studying journalism in university, but I never really shot much until I started Xpat. While running the magazine I became friends with three of the best professional photographers in Taiwan, Steven Vigar, Garret Clarke and Richard Matheson. We’d often shoot assignments together. That was how I learned most of my photography skills--in the field, straight from the pros. Now I publish my photographs regularly alongside my writing, and occasionally on their own.


Travel photography is the dream job of many people. Is it possible? Or is it just a dream? It’s certainly possible, but it’s not easy. Most of the professional photographers that I know are constantly scrambling to find new assignments. Most travel photography is sold to newspapers and magazines. Newspapers and magazines are in a very bad state these days. Many are losing money and going out of business. That means less paying outlets, and more competition from all those newly unemployed professionals. The writing and photography that used to appear in print is now moving online, and online publications simply don’t pay as well. This is very likely the most difficult time in the history of travel publishing to work as a travel writer or photographer. That being said, working as a travel photographer is possible. However, it requires a lot of hard work and investment. You have to be willing to invest thousands of dollars into equipment and years into building your portfolio, skill set, and Rolodex. One of the most important aspects of travel photography is capturing a feeling. What things can you do to achieve that? That’s a hard question to give a short answer to. The first thing to do is shoot a lot. Most perfect moments are captured by accident. It takes a great photographer to time a shot perfectly. Most of us will never get to that level and must rely on luck. As a general rule, one can expect one or two good photos for every thirty that are taken. When you are shooting people, try to take several pictures rapidly. Most people will feel uncomfortable when they think the shutter is clicking, but will relax a moment after--that is when a most good shots are taken. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I’ll often come home after a day of shooting with more than 2000 exposures and spend several hours sorting through the rubble for those few gems. What about photographing people? I know you can’t ask everyone you’ve photographed permission, but what are your guidelines? Asking a person for a picture usually means that the photo will not be natural. For editorial use, the law states that you don’t require a release for pictures taken in public. If a person is in public, they’ve


PHOTO CORNER: Exposing the work of Matt Gibson

kayaking on kootenay lake | kootenay lake. british columbia, canada I was in Canada visiting my ailing father at our summer cabin on Kootenay Lake. He had a cheap plastic kayak and I decided to teach myself how to use it. I did this by flipping it in the middle of the lake, without a lifejacket, which resulted in me having to swim and push the kayak nearly one kilometre back to shore. The next day I decided to take my D80 out to shoot a 360 degree panorama of the lake. That trip got quite exciting when the weather turned foul. You can read about both of these stories on my website.

vagabundomagazine.com

25

SPRING 2012


implicitly agreed to be photographed. Sometimes it’s necessary to shoot first and ask questions later. Sometimes you won’t have time or the opportunity to talk to the subject at all. Nothing can be done about that. As much as circumstances allow, I ask permission to shoot strangers. Often times, though, circumstances don’t allow it. What types of things do you like to photograph? I’ve never been comfortable shooting strangers in the street, but I’m working on that more and more because 99% of the time editors want photos with people in them. Recently my focus has been on shooting people doing outdoors sports that evoke excitement because of the action, or awe because of the natural beauty of the surroundings.


PHOTO CORNER: Exposing the work of Matt Gibson

FIVe surfers | waimea bay. hawaii, usa I was in Hawaii on the island of O’ahu for my sister’s wedding. We heard that the Eddie Aikau surf contest might be held the day before the wedding. The Eddie Aikau is held in honour of a legendary surfer who died trying to save stranded boaters. It’s only held once every few years when the waves are enormous and perfect enough to honour him. The day of the contest the waves were big enough, but not quite clean enough, so the contest was cancelled. But that didn’t stop the locals from paddling out and surfing the monster breaks. I snapped this from a rock outcropping shortly before the police made me move for safety reasons. vagabundomagazine.com

27

SPRING 2012


People travel across the world to get “off the beaten path”. What are some things people can do with photography that is both off the beaten path but also close to home? Every place has its own character, we just become blind to it when it’s part of our daily life. There are off-the-beaten-track places in every city and in every countryside. I’d encourage photographers to choose a subject that they want to shoot and then try to document all aspects of it. When I lived in Taiwan, my friend decided to document blue-collar workers by doing portraits of them in their places of work. He shot ice-factory workers, fishermen, farmers, and the like. You can do that kind of project anywhere. Old-dilapidated buildings exist in every corner of the globe, and are always full of character. Find something unique in your area, and make it your mission to shoot it. Right now, I’m living in North California. Although North America hardly feels like an exotic travel destination, there are lots of places I’m excited to shoot. Joshua Tree National Park is spectacular, as is Redwood National Park. Never forget, there’s treasure everywhere. Tell us about your gear. What camera equipment do you use? Right now I shoot with a Nikon D80 with 35mm, 50mm, and 18-135mm lenses. I also carry a Nikon Speedlight, but I only use it when circumstances require it. I also carry the GoPro camera I mentioned earlier for underwater photography and other special circumstances.

Does someone need professional gear to take great travel photos? Definitely not. As one photographer friend of mine told me, “I don’t take good photos. I take a lot of photos and simply try to increase the odds that I’ll get a good one.” There is an element of luck in capturing the perfect moment. Knowing your stuff means you won’t mess up your shot when it comes along by poorly exposing it, framing it badly, or standing in the wrong place. Having better gear means you will be more flexible in different situations. You’ll have a lens option that gives you a better chance of framing


RIOT hugs | vancouver. british columbia, canada A few days after TBEX 2011 in Vancouver, the infamous Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot occurred. Rioters took to the streets after Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup playoffs. I was downtown in my cousin’s apartment and seized the opportunity to shoot the fiasco. The result was sixteen great shots including this one, and one of the most discussed stories about the riot on the Huffington Post. Ironically, shortly after I took this picture, the girl was caught on video smashing a cop car with a club and then lighting it on fire. She was later arrested.

vagabundomagazine.com

29

SPRING 2012


PHOTO CORNER: Exposing the work of Matt Gibson

What has been your favourite place to photograph to date? Most definitely the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Phillipines.

SPRING 2012

30

vagabundomagazine.com


the picture well, your camera will operate better in different light conditions, you’ll have the filter that will prevent a washed-out sky or reduce the glare off of windows or water. The quality of point-and-shoot cameras has improved vastly in recent years. They are all capable of taking top-notch photos. Better gear just enables you to better adapt to a wider variety of situations. What is your dream photography destination? Right now I’m very excited to visit Utah’s Zion Narrows. They look absolutely otherworldly.

matt-gibson.org


Photo Corner  

Exposing the work of Matt Gibson